Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pro Bike Mechanic School - Canada

Some time ago, thanks to the Ontario Randonneurs on line forum, I became aware of a pro-level bike mechanic course offered in Guelph, Ontario.  When I found myself with enough time available to attend the two-week course I signed up.  The program is administered by the Conestoga College offering college credits for successful completion.  The Winterborne Bicycling Institute provided the facility, and the instructors.   There were eleven full day sessions in the classroom/shop.  I found affordable accommodations at a Travelodge motel about 12 miles away in the town of Cambridge. I would commute to the class by bike to keep my fitness up over the two weeks.
City limits of Guelph, Ontario (pronounced "Gwolf")

 When the class began on Monday morning I was welcomed by Jay Filer, owner of Winterborne Bicycle Institute (WBI) and lead instructor for the course.  I was shown a convenient indoor parking spot for my bike and almost immediately was immersed in the world of bicycle repair along with nine other eager students.  Jay and a second instructor Alberto De Ciccio, who also arrived by bike, seemed to know all there is to know about the mechanical workings of bicycles.  Jay's background as a custom bike builder was key, as he was able to help us understand why things were done a certain way.  Alberto, a former WBI graduate, had much to share with us from having worked in many shops.  He was able to demonstrate safe, efficient techniques to perform specific functions of assembling and repair.  About half of our time was spent with books.  Also, watching Jay and Alberto demonstrate procedures.  The other half was spent actually performing procedures on bikes that were provided by the class.  At the end of the day we would leave with approximately two to three hours of assigned home work.
Instructors Jay (right) and Alberto (left) demonstrate wheel building

I fell into the routine that was to be my life for weeks.  I would get up early, ride my bike 12 miles to the Starbucks for breakfast.  Then ride two miles to the class. I would ride back to the Starbucks at lunch time to get coffee.  At the end of the day I would ride the 12 miles back to the hotel.  I typically would eat dinner in my hotel room while doing the daily home work assignments.

The first week consisted of six full days of class leaving us with the Sunday off.   Alberto asked me if I wanted to join him on a road ride starting at his hotel in Guelph.  I agreed to meet him riding over on Sunday morning. We went on a brisk 40 mile ride through the countryside.  I learned Alberto had spent 14 years as a bike courier in Toronto.  He had incredible bike handling skills.  I watched him balance his Cervello at a traffic light by clipping out one foot, turning the front wheel to the side, then keeping the bike stationary with his foot on the front tire. After returning to Guelph I rode back to my hotel for a total of 62 miles. I spent the rest of the day doing laundry, food shopping and homework. The microwave and mini-fridge in my hotel room were getting used extensively as I was preparing most of my meals there. 
Scene along the bike route to class
Another farm. Note the Canadian flag
This private pond was one of  my favorite views
Entering the industrial area where Winterborne Bicycle Institute is located

Beginning  the second week I started to feel tired. The daily commute, the intense day of learning and the never ending home work were wearing me down.  I was not fully confident I could absorb enough of the material to pass the final written exam and the bike assembly evaluation.  A failing grade would result in no credit for the course and no certificate.  Of course, I would still come away with any knowledge and skill  I was capable of retaining.  I made peace with that concept taking the pressure off myself.  I wanted to enjoy the experience and not be stressed out for the remainder of the course.  Despite being tired I stuck with the daily bike commute. It was so enjoyable to ride there I looked forward to it each day.  I worked on my home work assignments to the best of my ability, sometimes lugging three volumes of text books back and forth in a back pack. I also made an effort to retain as much as I could from the classroom sessions.
A relaxing break is taken as Jay demonstrates his technique with the "Spud Launcher".  The gophers in the adjacent field quake with fear at the sound of those potatoes flying overhead.

As usual, I arrived by bike on the final day, which would consist of a three hour written exam and a three hour bike assembly.  The written exam was the first business of the day.  It was an open book test, so we could use the five classroom text books provided to us.  There were 103 questions in total. A score of 70% would be needed to pass.  I took the entire three hours to complete mine. After the lunch break we would begin the evaluated bike assembly.  We were given brand new bikes in boxes and would completely assemble them taking care that all the components were correctly set up and all fasteners were torqued to specifications.  It would take three hours to complete the project.  Jay and Alberto carefully inspected the project bikes grading the students on the quality of the work.  We took a break while waiting for our final grades.  When the calculations were complete I learned I had passed the course. While I could have lived with myself if I had failed passing was far better.  Despite being hard the two weeks were enjoyable. The nine other participants were all fellow bike enthusiasts some were already employed as bike mechanics. The time spent with this group and the instructors was pleasant and memorable.
The graduating class and instructors at the end of the two week program.  The vintage cruiser was the property of WBI, not my daily commuter.

I would recommend this program to anyone looking to improve their knowledge of the mechanical workings of the bicycle.  Enrollment is through Conestoga College the course number is: MECH 1234. 


  1. Joe,

    That's sounds like a great course. If I ever had two weeks to spare. I'd love to do it. I might end up taking a few Park Tool night classes instead.


  2. Joe, As a fellow bicycle mechanic I first of all want to say thanks for being part of it all. Before I did Winterborne I had already worked at 3 bike shops of varying calibers but nothing really complex or with proper training. As a cyclist I enhanced my skills by working on my own bike as well as my father and brother's machines at home, and found this to be rewarding and enjoyable. The timing for WBI's August course was perfect for me because I finished my 2 year business diploma just a week and a half before WBI began. Making the switch from 2 years of dry, boring classes such as accounting, computers, and finance, Winterborne was like going to the park everyday. I had so much fun learning about bikes, and I took a lot of it with me. My memories of Winterborne Bicycle Institute are all positive, and definitely the best time I've ever had in a classroom. Currently, less than 2 months after graduation, I'm working full time as a mechanic at a high end road bike shop in Toronto called La Bicicletta www.labicicletta.com. Nothing can fully prepare you for work as a professional bike mechanic because the industry is so dynamic and every shop has their "guy", the person who's been there forever and knows every part inside and out, and although you may have formal training, you have to learn from the one with the experience. I can't express how thankful I am for the experience I had at Winterborne, and that thanks goes out equally to the classmates and the instructors. As a moderately experienced bicycle mechanic working in a shop with products I had never seen or touched before, my advice for aspiring mechanics is to arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can through research and first hand experience. I recommend Winterborne Bicycle Institute to anyone who has any serious interest in the cycling world, but it is not the certificate that gets you the credibility, it's the brain and the hands that you can bring to the shop.

  3. when the next course you know thank you joy...

  4. I need a good bike mechanic for my bike repairing which do their job properly. Actually I want personal mechanic which repair my as his own bike. Please tell me if anyone knows about good mechanic for my bike.

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